A frequent topic in CIO circles is that of "alignment," which suggests that the key to being a successful CIO is aligning IT's objectives and measures with those of other business units. Historically, this meant hitching IT's wagon to one or both of the two big players in the C-suite: the CFO and COO. In many organizations, the CIO role itself was an offshoot of finance or operations, and in many cases, still reports to the chief of one of those organizations. Similarly, in decades past most large IT expenditures served finance and operations, installing massive accounting and supply chain packages. However, there's an opportunity for savvy CIOs to work with an emerging C-suite player: the Chief Marketing Officer.
A tale of two C-suite'ers
Interestingly, CMOs share many of the concerns and challenges of CIOs. Like the CIO, the CMO title is relatively recent, and many CMOs worry about "alignment" and their roles being marginalized and underappreciated. CMOs have also been saddled with a raft of new technologies that are changing the very nature of their business, from big data to social media. These emerging marketing technologies present an excellent opportunity for a mutually beneficial alliance between CIOs and CMOs.
The future of marketing
Marketing as a whole is undergoing a dramatic shift that started with the advent of electronic communications allowing tailored marketing campaigns at a massive scale. Concurrent with this change were new technologies that allowed detailed metrics to be captured, taking marketing closer to the nirvana of correlating marketing spend with sales results. No longer were marketers creating huge mass-marketing campaigns and tracking their performance with mercurial and imprecise statistics, but now were able to marry marketing spending directly to lead generation.
More recently, social media and improved database technologies have allowed marketers to run highly automated and wide-reaching marketing campaigns that are individually targeted. Instead of a television ad running during a sporting event that might reach 10 million viewers, 10,000 of which might be interested in my product, I can now target those same 10,000 individuals directly, some via a social media website, some via a phone call, and each with a specifically targeted message. Obviously, this highly tailored and highly automated marketing department is dependent on technology.
The battle for the CMO
For CMOs, dealing with these increasingly capable and increasingly complex technologies is a challenge, and CMOs are turning either towards the CIO or their agencies as a source of trusted advice. For the CIO, watching marketing turn outside the organization for guidance and expertise further marginalizes the importance of IT, and often results in IT being consulted to "connect the dots" after key strategic decisions have already been made.
Rather than waiting for the CMO to knock on your door, or worse, getting summoned to a vendor meeting where your entire IT architecture has been turned on its head, start meeting with your peers in marketing to understand their concerns and see where IT can help. You had better believe that the CMO is already meeting with trusted agencies about these issues, and if you wait for the CMO to start the conversation, you may be too late.
You may be surprised how quickly and easily IT can help marketing. As a group that is increasingly dependent on data, you may be able to leverage existing databases and tools to make marketing's job easier. You can also begin to understand some of the concerns of the CMO, and ideally partner with your colleague as he or she considers initiatives that may require drastic changes to your IT environment.
While some in IT may be initially uncomfortable with marketing, a discipline that often deals with feelings, impressions, and sentiment rather than hard data, the alliance between the creative and the technical is growing increasingly valuable. The sooner you can get your people exposed to marketing's concerns and challenges, and offer technical solutions, the more likely both the CMO and CIO roles succeed in your organization.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.